To Survive Lukashenko Willing To Sacrifice His People To The Kremlin – OpEd
It looks like the problems in Belarus will not go away any time soon. But all in all, nothing has really changed. The protesters are protesting, law enforcement and the government are keeping an eye on and detaining them and Lukashenko is still in power running around with an assault rifle, promising constitutional amendments and belittling protesters.
We can also observe some trends that make the situation in Belarus even more complicated –the Belarusian people have split into two camps. The first camp consists of the protesters, while the second camp consists of Lukashenko’s supporters. We still don’t know if these people support him willingly or are forced to do so using threats of some kind of sanctions in case they disobey. Regardless, we can see that the Belarusian people are being divided, and this means that there’s the possibility of a conflict erupting between both sides. And such a conflict would greatly benefit none other than Lukashenko’s regime.
However, the largest possible changes to the situation in Belarus involve neighboring Russia. If some time ago Russian media outlets remained somewhat neutral, lately the protesters have been portrayed in a much more negative light. Vladimir Putin even announced that Moscow recognizes the legitimacy of the Belarusian presidential election.1 And I already wrote about Russia’s willingness to assist Lukashenko.
But there is something else indicating the Kremlin’s engagement. In February 2020, Lukashenko made an announcement that during talks on Belarus’ further economic integration Russia insisted on uniting both states. “They see integration as Belarus being devoured. That is not integration. That is incorporation. I will never agree to such a thing.”2 But now, information has surfaced suggesting that after a conversation between Lukashenko and Putin “a shared attitude was approved on continuing to strengthen the union between Russia and Belarus and expanding mutually beneficial cooperation in all areas,” and this was stated by the Kremlin.3 It was added the Lukashenko is to visit Moscow in the upcoming weeks to meet Putin.
All of these changes make me wonder – what is behind all of this? Lukashenko once rejected Putin, denying him the chance to become the leader of the union state. Has Putin forgotten his humiliation? Let’s not be naïve – of course he hasn’t. Does Lukashenko suddenly have something to offer to Putin and are they both on a level playing field? No. Both are unloved by their people, but Putin’s grip on power is solid, while Lukashenko is forced to take up arms and hide from his people behind the backs of law enforcement officers. The economy is at a standstill, and it’s not looking well for the Belarusian banking system.4
This means that Lukashenko doesn’t have anything to offer to Putin, he can only agree to everything Putin wants. In return, Lukashenko won’t be handed over to the Belarusian people and he’ll be able to retire peacefully. The second possibility is that Lukashenko formally remains the president of an independent Belarus (ignoring the fact that he is unrecognized and unloved) and becomes the Kremlin’s puppet. Even if some joint governmental institutions are established, they will undoubtedly only serve the interests of the Kremlin. One of the priorities would be to unite the law enforcement institutions (maybe we can draw parallels with the FSB director visiting Minsk)5 and armed forces of both states in order to “maintain peace”, which according to Lukashenko is now being threatened. Lastly, it is possible that Lukashenko’s constitutional amendments intend “closer” cooperation with Russia. We can be certain that such an issue would be decided by a public vote – both Lukashenko and Putin have huge experience in organizing them.
It seems that Lukashenko understands his tenure as president is approaching its end, so he must do everything to ensure his existence. But he isn’t bothered by the fact that in order to ensure his existence he is selling his people and his country. And the other hero of the story is no different – Putin too has shown he isn’t afraid to use any means necessary to get what he wants.